Before making changes inyour business, make sure you are solving the right problem. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit “the target.”
(Richard A McCullough, @richwriter, March 18, 2012 via my Twitter stream @beinpulse)

Or maybe I should say, ‘Penneys first, Target later, because today there’s a glut of stories in my news feed about how large department and discount stores are going “smaller” either in terms of actual store space or in their approach within their stores, by creating micro shops around customers’ favorite brands or lifestyles. About retailers who are ‘reinventing’ themselves to reflect consumers changing habits. And for years we’ve been bombarded by advertising from retailers who are competing on price to the point that, this year, JCPenneys latest re-invention may be the signal that discounting is dead—whether it’s because retailers have hit bottom in terms of the prices they can afford to offer or whether we (the American consumer) have simply been discounted to the point that it’s no longer an incentive to buy.

It seems like nearly every major retailer is somewhere in the process of reinvention, re-engineering, all the time.  And it’s expensive; somewhere along the line, we as consumers are the ones who foot that bill, too.  Are any of you out there feeling the genius of all this retail reinvention?

Maybe retailers are shooting at the wrong target, or at best, maybe these strategies are only part of the answer.

Because ultimately, what creates shop-to-the-death brand loyalty isn’t layout, it’s love.

Love for the customer, demonstrated day in and day out, in consistent, repetitive encounters in which the customer experience matches up with not only what your customers need (products and services) but also corresponds to what they value—the things your business does that make customers feel truly valued, themselves.

Do the retail reinventions you’ve observed to date, or which are being promised in the future speak to that? If the products and services being offered are the same, and the customer experience is essentially the same as before and as that of competitors, then it is not. When was the last time you had a retail shopping experience that felt intrinsically unique—extraordinarily outside of what you expected—in some meaningful way?  When was the last time a business acted on your feedback?  When was the last time you shopped a major retailer and felt like the most important customer in the store?

Love for the mission and vision, demonstrated to the point that your customers would be able to write out your mission statement, based on their experiences with your business.

While there are many different ideas on what mission and vision statements should look like, this definition, from Drew McLellan at Drew’s Marketing Minute provides a clear way to describe them: “Your mission is what you do best every single day, and your vision is what the future will be like because you deliver on that mission so brilliantly every day.”

If you put a focus group together of even your most loyal customers, would the answers they write to these questions reflect your (actual) mission and vision statements?

  • What is the mission, or purpose, of our business?
  • What words would you use to describe the customer experience at our business?
  • What words would you use to describe your last experience with any aspect of our business?
  • When our business is “all grown up” (5, 10 or 25 years in the future) what type of role do you think it will play:
    • in your life
    • in the life of the community

How about your employees?

Without a cheat sheet, would their answers to these questions reflect your actual mission and vision statement? I hope that it would, because the next “love” you must have to create customer loyalty is just that:

Love for employees, demonstrated by more than paychecks and perks.

People on the outside of your business are described by words like customers, prospects, referrers, stakeholders, etc. These are words which indicate that these individuals possess intrinsic worth, in and of themselves.  Doesn’t it strike you as odd that once an individual accepts a compensated position with a business that they are then viewed (and consequently treated) more like tools and resources — things that are only valuable to the extent that they are used properly?  And who wants to be treated like a tool?

The single most important thing to creating loyal customers is the customer perception. The single most important influencers of the customer perception are your employees. Period.  Not your products or services, because your customers can get what you sell somewhere else.  It’s not what you do that sets your business apart, it’s how your business does it.

And since your employees are, therefore, your most important resource, doesn’t it follow that you should lavish the love, care and attention needed to educate and empower them to create extraordinary customer experiences?  And shouldn’t the way that you treat your employees become the ultimate motivator for them to their best, each and every day?

There is merit to creating customer’s bills of rights, manifestos and other promises. But if you continually break the promises you made to your employees when they were hired as to the vision of how it would be to work for your business, then what incentive is there for your employees to fulfill the promises you make to customers and to give you that 100% effort you ask for, each and every day?

Love for learning, manifested by transparency, authenticity, introspection and capacity for change.

You might need some therapy for this one because, as Dr. Phil and others like to say, “You can’t change what you won’t acknowledge.” And this goes back to the heart of the initial question about retail renovation as well, in whether or not retailers are shooting first, and aiming later.

A love for learning usually goes hand in hand with growth and development whether speaking about individuals or corporations. Businesses with a learning culture eagerly embrace all sorts of new information, including information gained from customer and employee feedback. They recognize that feedback can become the impetus for change that will put the business into position to actually (1) really know what customers value and (2) provide customer experiences that deliver on those values.

Love of the future, demonstrated in a continuous pattern of long-term thinking and decision-making.

This one is easy to understand. Those who seek immediate gratification often destroy their ability to succeed in the future by disappointing customers and employees, failing to invest in learning and disregard that points to dis-ingenuousness when it comes to the stated mission and vision of the business. Conversely, when you are concerned with the long term, you make decisions and plan strategically to get to the future, to put yourself into the best possible position to succeed in the future. And best of all, love of the future feeds all of the other types of loves listed above.